3/28/2013 - A Princeton admissions officer finds her orderly life disrupted by her past in Admission, a mild romantic comedy based on the book by Jean Hanff Korelitz.
Portia Nathan (Tina Fey) spends her days deciding who lives and who dies — or at least the drama surrounding her picks would have you think that. In fact, all the begging and pleading and folders full of evidence of teenage accomplishments are from high school seniors desperate to get into Princeton. Portia is a hard worker and scrupulously honest — no coercive champagne bottles or free lunches for her. She’s hoping that her soon-to-retire boss Clarence (Wallace Shawn) will notice her dedication and give her his job over Corrine (Gloria Reuben), her colleague with similar aspirations.
Just as she’s entering the season that will likely decide who gets the promotion, Portia is hit with two bombshells.
First: her longtime (passion-free and yet comfortable) relationship to Mark (Michael Sheen) ends because he has cheated on her with a Virginia Woolf professor.
The second: John Pressman (Paul Rudd), a principal at a new school in Keene (Granite State shout out!), has called her to recommend a student he’s helping to apply. She comes out to see him — thinking that finding a new school to draw from will help her stay competitive with Corrine — and finds a weird kid at a hippy farm school. Jeremiah (Nat Wolff) is a smart but slightly odd kid who, though clearly talented and possessing quite high test scores, has abysmal records for his previous three years at a more traditional high school. He has no shot, Portia tries to tell John. He might be your son, John tells Portia.
Portia, who has advised a younger admissions officer (Michael Genandry) to stay emotionally detached, now finds herself invested — in Jeremiah, whose birth certificate suggests he might be the son she gave up for adoption many years ago, and in John. John seems like a free spirit, traveling the world to take part in do-gooder projects. But his adopted pre-teen son Nelson (Travaris Spears) wishes John would settle down and be more “boring” like Portia. And, so, two people with messy lives find comfort in each other.
If you were going to make a romantic comedy for me and a certain subsection of girls I’ll label, broadly, as nerds, you couldn’t do much better than Tina Fey and Paul Rudd. She is awesome; he is handsome and funny in a slacker-dude way. Their adorable awkwardness doesn’t feel like the weird put-on that it does when it’s, say, Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel. And, with Reuben, Shawn, Sheen and Lily Tomlin, who plays Portia’s aggressive hippy mother, the movie picked good supporting characters to surround these leads. Nobody’s too quirky, nobody’s a cartoon.
Nobody stretches either. Fey is doing a better dressed, less goofy variation of Liz Lemon. Rudd is the same good guy cutie-pants that he is in most of his roles. I never forgot that she’s Tina Fey, and I kept waiting for her to say something just a bit funnier. Knowing nothing about the source material, I think the movie, at least, played it safe. There are some raw emotional moments — or at least they could have been raw. Big reveals and relationship-changing conversations all feel too sanded down. And while I’m glad they weren’t turned into melodrama, I wish there had been more of an edge. The romance is nice, but it could have been more romantic — messier or hotter or something. The comedy is OK, but there definitely could have been more of that.
Everything about this movie is very even and smooth and mild, like cream cheese. Really good cream cheese, cream cheese I’m happy to smear on the surprisingly unstale bagel that is the use of the rom-com genre here. But still, plain cream cheese, plain bagel, not a poppy seed of surprise or an onion flake of originality to be found. B-
Rated PG-13 for language and some sexual material. Directed by Paul Weitz with a screenplay by Karen Croner (based on the novel by Jean Hanff Korelitz), Admission is an hour and 57 minutes long and distributed by Focus Features.